Category Archives: Gratitude

Hope and faith: Something missing, something coming

On the four Sundays leading up to Christmas we light Advent candles—one candle per week, each with a different word associated with it: Hope, Peace, Joy and Love.

Usually the first Sunday of Advent falls on the same date as an important Canadian sporting event: the Grey Cup. [The championship game for the Canadian Football League.] Usually we host a gathering of neighbourhood friends for a Grey Cup party involving unhealthy food and beer. A kind of Canadian Superbowl party. At some point in the evening, we still the TV, quiet the conversation, and take time to be peaceful, to appreciate each other’s friendship, and to light the candle of Hope. 

This year the Canadian Football League did not play at all due to COVID. There was no Grey Cup. There was no gathering of friends.

We lit the candle of Hope, but something was missing.

But that’s when we feel hope, isn’t it? When we feel that something is missing. That’s when we yearn.

This year, there is a whole lot of yearning going on. So . . . many . . . things . . . we are missing.

In these times I try to remember that the sunshine side of hope is faith. That’s when we relax in the knowledge that all shall be well.

When we hope, our bodies are taut, we lean forward with fists clenched. In faith, we relax, drop our shoulders, breathe . . .

We hope because something is missing. We have faith because someday, somehow, something’s coming. Get ready.

Advent wreath with one candle of Hope lit.
The Candle of Hope

Squirrels with no fur upon thars

This post from my previous site is another one that continues to gather regular traffic.

Way back in 2012, I was standing at my kitchen sink washing dishes when I saw something that made me stop in the middle of scrubbing a pot: a creature in my back yard looked suspiciously like a rat. Yikes.

I watched it for a while wondering how much rat traps cost. Then I realized that it looked like a rat, but it didn’t behave like a rat. It behaved exactly like the other squirrels frolicking around my yard.

It was a squirrel with no fur on its tail.

The next day a second squirrel with no fur on its tail appeared; this one was grey. What was going on? How could there be two squirrels of different colours with furless tails?

Grey squirrel with no fur on its tail
With apologies for the blurry photos. This was 2012, after all.

I have since learned that they probably had mange, but at the time I didn’t know that.

What made my heart glad was that all the squirrels, whether they had fluffy tails or not, played together happily.

It reminded me of  “The Sneetches” by Dr. Seuss.

In that fabulous story, some Sneetches have stars on their bellies, but Plain-Belly Sneetches had “no stars upon thars.” In the beginning, the Star-Belly Sneetches won’t associate with their plainer counterparts. By the end of the story, after Sylvester McMonkey McBean sends them all on several trips through his Star-on or Star-off machine (only ten dollars each) the Sneetches no longer know “Whether this one was that one . . . or that one was this one / Or which one was what one . . . or what one was who.”

In other words, the Sneetches discovered that it’s what’s inside that counts. That’s something my backyard squirrels seem to know instinctively. They play together whether or not there is “fur upon thars.”

The Sneetches learned, the squirrels know it. Can we figure it out?

Rubber boat: Laughing into the next four years

I never thought I’d see the day. This week I saw a headline about the United States that read: “An Empire Has Fallen.” Conversations over the past few days have involved the phrase, “I hope the election can unfold without violence.”

Dear America, what has become of you? As often as I have resented you for being bigger, better at the Summer Olympics, and more replete with winter sunbathing beaches than my Canada, more often I have admired you. Oh, how I want to do so again.

I can’t bear to think about the election. It’s so out of my control. I’m distracting myself with happy thoughts. Like rubber boat, for instance.

Recently, on The Spectacled Bean blog, Ally asked the question: “Of all the words in the English vocabulary which ONE is your favorite?” (Something to ponder.)

It reminded me of an experience I had way back in 1980 when I was an exchange student in Mexico. I went to an all-girls, Catholic high school. (Quite a change for me. This Protestant girl did not know a Hail Mary from a Hall Monitor.) I was learning to speak and write Spanish, but the girls there loved to practice English.

One day, in a book we were working on together, we came across a picture of a rubber dinghy. The girls asked me how to say it in English.

“Rubber boat,” I replied.

They fell apart laughing. To a Spanish ear, that sounds hilarious.

“What?!” they said. “Say it again!”

“Rubber boat,” I repeated.

They howled with laughter, even louder than before “Again!”

“Rubber boat,” I said.

The more I said it, the harder they laughed. Then they tried saying it, and I couldn’t help laughing at them. Soon all of us were gasping for breath with tears running down our faces.

Ah, such a happy memory. I’m going to ride it into this week. America, I’m pullin’ for ya.

Two hands put together to form the shape of a heart.

The Hallowe’en Blue Moon

“You have to understand that it is your attempt to get special experiences from life that makes you miss the actual experiences of life. Life is not something you get; it’s something you experience. Life exists with or without you.”

—Michael A. Singer in The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself

 On Hallowe’en, we will have a second full moon in one month: a blue moon.

The moon moves the waters of our massive oceans, so it’s not difficult to believe that a force that mighty could have an effect on me too. Perhaps the gravitational pull of the moon and the sun creates some ebb and flow in the water of my being.

At the very least, a second full moon in a single month makes me turn aside—take a break from my usual busy-ness and preoccupations—and pay attention.

It is a break from trying to make special experiences happen so I can appreciate life’s actual experiences.

The blue moon is not something I create. It exists with or without me. I get to experience it—the beauty, the gravitational pull, the brief and rare glory.

I don’t intend to miss it.

cloud-shrouded moon

Positively positive

I am an optimist. I CAN’T HELP IT. When unfortunate events occur, my natural response is: “Okay, let’s deal with this. How can good come of it?”

This past week I was alarmed and disturbed when someone brought the phrase “toxic positivity” to my attention. The Psychology Group calls it “the dark side of the ‘positive vibes’ trend.”

We define toxic positivity as the excessive and ineffective overgeneralization of a happy, optimistic state across all situations. The process of toxic positivity results in the denial, minimization, and invalidation of the authentic human emotional experience.

— The Psychology Group: “Toxic Positivity: The Dark Side of Positive Vibes”

Has my relentless positivity been annoying the heck out of people? Have I been robbing people of their sorrow? Maybe I have friends who are secretly licking wounds I unintentionally inflicted on them?

If so, I apologize, but I CAN’T HELP IT.

It’s not that I don’t ever feel sad, or disturbed, or angry. I do. But I am incapable of dwelling in those states, and I find it hard to understand it when people do.

If there was ever a time for people to explore the breadth of emotions, it’s during a pandemic. Over the past seven months I have felt sad, disturbed and angry. Of course I have. But I’ve also been saying, “Okay, let’s deal with this. How can good come of it?”

I have been practising gratitude at every turn, and I have found so many things to feel positive about. For example, I am grateful to have acquired the skill of picking up a tennis ball without using my hands, so as to (ahem) not touch other people’s balls.

Woman picking up tennis ball using a shoe and the racquet
No more bending! I can now lodge the ball between my shoe and the racquet and lift.

When I asked my Facebook friends, they too had found many positives amongst the negatives.

Physical Activity: My friends took up physical activities they had never done before, or had not done in a long time: tennis, biking, walking, and stand-up paddleboarding. One friend described her new kickboxing habit as a “great way to work out the COVID angst.”

Technology: We have learned how to use online communications platforms. We are doing online coaching, yoga and fitness classes. One friend learned how to use a coverstitch sewing machine to make athletic leggings with a professional look. And, of course, there’s online grocery shopping.

Connections: We aren’t seeing people like we were before, but we’re seeing people in a different way. One women meets a 94-year-old friend from Scotland every week via Zoom. Many people have met neighbours they never knew before, because suddenly everyone is working from home and going for walks. We’re helping each other with groceries and dropping off baked goods. We’re enjoying family time. playing games, eating together. While stocking up on books before the lockdown, a friend met someone who runs a writers group.

Services: Two of my friends learned how to groom their dogs. Many, many of them cut their own hair or a family member’s hair. We watched YouTube videos to learn how to do just about anything. Another friend has learned how to do her own gel nails.

Hobbies: Sewing, cooking new things, gardening, drying seeds, and canning are on the list of hobbies developed in the past seven months. I’ve been doing lots of writing. One friend started buying and selling used vinyl (albums in my lingo). He is, “having a blast. Meeting all kinds of interesting people (at a distance) and adding considerably to [his] music knowledge base.”

Self-care: Through all of this we have been trying to take care of ourselves. The physical activity is helping with that. One friend lost 30 pounds. Another friend has taken up a meditation practice.

These are all little ways of dealing with the negative. When can do them when we’re sad, mad or angry.

Collectively we’re saying, “Okay, let’s deal with this. What good can come of it?”

yellow frisbee with a happy face
Put on a happy face . . . but only when you’re ready.

Found hearts

While hiking at the Mill of Kintail last week, I came across this heart rock on one of the boardwalks.

Rock painted with a purple hear

A few weeks ago, I woke up and looked out my bedroom window to see this collection of hearts on my neighbours’ lawn, in celebration of their 60th wedding anniversary.

Over the years, I’ve encountered heart-shaped rocks in several locations, including during a Habitat for Humanity build in Bolivia. That heart became part of the foundation of the house we built together.

My niece went to an amethyst mine near Thunder Bay and brought me back this sample.

Heart-shaped amethyst

When I come across an unexpected heart, it always makes my smile. I think we all need a little lift these days, am I right?

May my found hearts help to lift yours. What are your favourite hearts?